Marine archaeology (the inspiration behind the national museum at Caorle, Venice) represents a mixture of chance and methodology, intentionality and happenstance, and of layers and concretions. Take, for example, the rutters of the 19th century Prussian brig which sank off the Venetian Lido, which by all accounts has the appearance of a modern installation at the entrance of a museum. Then there is the Mercure, a brig of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy sunk by the British fleet during the Battle of Pirano (1812), which has become a prime case study in the field of conflict archaeology, or the critical archaeological investigation of armed conflicts.
the Mercure, a brig of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy sunk by the British fleet during the Battle of Pirano (1812), which has become a prime case study in the field of conflict archaeology, or the critical archaeological investigation of armed conflicts.
The fate of the Mercure and its crew
Archaeological investigations of the shipwreck unfolded between 2001 and 2011, methodically documenting each aspect of the history surrounding the Mercure and her unfortunate crew, mostly, but not entirely, made up of Venetian sailors. Objects of daily use, fragments of lives cut short and testimonies of the battle, emerged along with various weapons, ammunition and, of course, the armaments of the vessel itself, including carronades (short naval guns) and a petriere (a common type of artillery). A total of nine hundred artifacts were recovered, archaeological finds testifying to the way the British fleet was able to dominate the sea, conditioning the entire military strategy of Napoleon, including in the most distant and protected places in the Mediterranean.
The Roman fleet deployed against the pirates threatening Iulia Concordia
Yet the National Museum of Marine Archaeology dives even more deeply into history, stretching as far back as the Bronze Age to tell the story of long-distance trade in the Mediterranean, eventually giving way to the power and organization on land and sea of Rome. An essential example linked to the sea is the Altar of Bato and Paius, honoring two classiarii (sailors in the military fleet, or classis), probably deployed against pirates. The two names are of Illyrian origin, demonstrating that this part of the Adriatic benefited from a great mobility of goods and people between the coasts, set in a continual state of osmosis. The altar is an essential piece of evidence for the presence of a fleet deployed to protect Iulia Concordia, a rich nearby Roman colony.
The modern museum at Caorle occupies the site of an early 20th century farm which provided grain to the Stucky mill of the Giudecca (Venice). Today, it plays host to the long history of the sea, from the evidence of antiquity to the medieval daggers found in the seabed and beyond, a reminder that the stories gifted to us by the sea are just some of the many jealously guarded secrets of the water.
THE VIDEO (IN ITALIAN):
CORRECTION: in the video, the rudder at the entrance is attributed to the Mercure, but is actually identifiable with the Hellmuth, another 19th century brig, but of Prussian command.
translation by Tyler Johnson